Monday, May 9, 2011

325: The Brain and Consciousness

The history of mankind in the last three hundred years has been punctuated by major upheavals in human thought that we call scientific revolutions

- upheavals that have profoundly affected the way in which we view ourselves and our place in the cosmos. First there was the Copernican revolution -

the notion that far from being the centre of the universe, our planet is a mere speck of dust revolving around the sun.

Then there was the Darwinian revolution culminating in the view that we are not angels but merely hairless apes, as Huxley once pointed out.

And third there was Freud's discovery of the "unconscious" - the idea that even though we claim to be in charge of our destinies, most of our behaviour is governed by a cauldron of motives and emotions which we are barely conscious of.

Your conscious life, in short, is nothing but an elaborate post-hoc rationalisation of things you really do for other reasons. But now we are poised for the greatest revolution of all - understanding the human brain.

This will surely be a turning point in the history of the human species for, unlike those earlier revolutions in science, this one is not about the outside world,

not about cosmology or biology or physics, but about ourselves, about the very organ that made those earlier revolutions possible.

These were not my words but those of Vilayanur S Ramachandran, one of the leading neuroscientists of today, at the Reith Lectures in 2003.

Until very recently, most neurobiologists did not regard consciousness as a suitable topic for scientific investigation.

This reluctance was based on certain philosophical mistakes, primarily the mistake of supposing that the subjectivity of consciousness made it beyond the reach of an objective science.

Once we see that consciousness is a biological phenomenon like any other, then it can be investigated neurobiologically. Consciousness is entirely caused by neurobiological processes and is realized in brain structures.

The essential trait of consciousness that we need to explain is unified qualitative subjectivity.

Consciousness thus differs from other biological phenomena in that it has a subjective or first-person ontology,

but this subjective ontology does not prevent us from having an epistemically objective science of consciousness.

We need to overcome the philosophical tradition that treats the mental and the physical as two distinct metaphysical realms.

These words of John Searle, one of the leading philosophers of mind today, direct our attention to the very first problem we have to tackle: THE MIND - BODY problem.

We are all convinced, that we have a mind and a body, but the idea that the mind is just a feature of the body is not common knowledge.

Many believe that the mind is something that resides inside of us, more or less separate from the body. The way we often talk about ourselves is in such a way as if the mind is almost independent of the body.

This is what is called Dualism: mind and body regarded as two separate entities. or even as two different substances. This way of thinking about man is more than 300 years old and it was Descartes (1576 - 1650) who "invented" this philosophy.

So, this will be our first hurdle to take: in line with what I have said before, I have to convince you philosophically, that dualism is fundamentally mistaken about the relation between body and mind.

The Discussion

[13:20] herman Bergson: I'll do that in my next lecture....thank you :-)
[13:20] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks...feel free...
[13:21] herman Bergson: Hi Gemma :-)
[13:21] bergfrau Apfelbaum: hellihello Gemma :-))
[13:21] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): :-)
[13:21] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:21] Kiki Walpanheim: hi gemma
[13:22] Mick Nerido: I think the dualism of body and mind goes further back the Descartes...
[13:22] herman Bergson: what are you thinking of Mick?
[13:23] Mick Nerido: Like the soul and body in religion
[13:23] herman Bergson: Yes indeed.....
[13:23] herman Bergson: But that is actually a distinction between a soul and a body....
[13:23] herman Bergson: Related to ideas of afterlife
[13:24] herman Bergson: It was Descartes who made a distinction between thinking/the mind and the body...
[13:24] Kiki Walpanheim: where does the first person feeling come for me?
[13:24] herman Bergson: from the brain Kiki, I would say
[13:24] Kiki Walpanheim: why am i me not others?
[13:25] Mick Nerido: Our conciousness seems so onrelated to our bodies ie. foot hands etc.
[13:25] herman Bergson: well....when your brain is malfunctioning you CAN be others....schizofrenia is an example
[13:25] Nitro Fireguard: ·What difference could we make between mind and counciousness
[13:25] Mick Nerido: unrelated
[13:25] Qwark Allen: mmm there they think others think for them
[13:26] herman Bergson: In fact I make no difference between mind and consciousness...
[13:26] Kiki Walpanheim: if physical things dont change at all, it still makes sense if my 1st person view is others, not me
[13:26] herman Bergson: two words referring to the same thing
[13:26] Kiki Walpanheim: yet i am just me
[13:27] herman Bergson: Yes Kiki.....this first person feature is a unique feature of the brain...
[13:27] Kiki Walpanheim: thats the point when i cant find answer and tempt to resort to spirituality...yet i doubt that thing strongly too since they cant be observed empirically
[13:28] herman Bergson: Main issue here is that there does not exist some special substance or material that we can call mind or consciousness
[13:29] herman Bergson: There is nothing inside my body that is independent of it....
[13:29] herman Bergson: Like some people think who believe to have a soul
[13:30] Mick Nerido: All brain function is electro chemical including the so called conciousness?
[13:31] Cocoa Moonkill: if consciousness is a property of body - is it related to humans only?
[13:31] herman Bergson: I wouldnt say that.....
[13:31] herman Bergson: no Cocoa....
[13:31] herman Bergson: Let me put it this way...
[13:32] herman Bergson: The elctro chemical activity in the brain CAUSE the minde or consciousness
[13:32] Kiki Walpanheim: and the materials composing my body keeps refreshing and changng, yet i still have the consistent first person feeling of beingme
[13:32] herman Bergson: Ohhh...Kiki.....THAT is a serious philosophical debate...personal identity.....
[13:33] herman Bergson: We certainly will get to that to
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: oh
[13:33] Cocoa Moonkill: then animals can have that "first person" feeling also?
[13:33] herman Bergson: Well some extend, yes.....
[13:33] herman Bergson: not all but some do....
[13:33] Mick Nerido: we are anamals with big brains
[13:33] Kyra Neutron: dont wake up every day..pick a personality cloth..put it on..and walk out the door to live...?
[13:34] herman Bergson: When you look in the mirror you say…hey...that is ME....
[13:34] Cocoa Moonkill: mmmm... I would not recognize my face on the street
[13:34] herman Bergson: No Kyra..neither do you pick up a new brain every day :-)
[13:34] Kiki Walpanheim: some low level animals might not; thinking about soil worms which live as two worms when you cut it to two parts
[13:34] Kyra Neutron: "consistent me"
[13:35] Cocoa Moonkill: it is completely "inner" feeling
[13:35] Kyra Neutron: who can call itself "consistent"?
[13:35] Siggi Ludwig (ludwig.john): but little children do not recognize themselves in the mirror?
[13:35] herman Bergson: Well the mirror test is regarded as a proof of a sense of personal identity
[13:35] herman Bergson: They do pretty fast Siggi.....
[13:36] herman Bergson: Dont know exactly when...but maybe even after 6 months or less even
[13:36] Kiki Walpanheim: the 1st person feelings of consciousness is kinda ..hmm...confusing to me...maybe that is just the way things are..
[13:37] herman Bergson: But to get back to personal identity.....some animals like elephants and chimps recognize themselves in a mirror....
[13:37] Kyra Neutron: idk...if you can watch yourself in the mirror...who is who ? kinda messy
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes Kiki....that is how the brain works...
[13:38] herman Bergson: .
[13:38] herman Bergson: You mean you dont recognize yourself in the mirror Kyra?
[13:38] Kyra Neutron: actually no :)
[13:38] herman Bergson frowns
[13:39] Kyra Neutron: and worms can wear shoes
[13:39] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): better try a new mirror
[13:39] Kyra Neutron: shall be a worm
[13:39] Kyra Neutron: what a lag..
[13:39] Qwark Allen: had a shower to
[13:39] herman Bergson: yes..never been that bad for me...this lag
[13:39] Qwark Allen: when i got home had a nap
[13:40] Qwark Allen: ehheh sry
[13:40] herman Bergson smiles at Qwark
[13:40] Kiki Walpanheim: maybe if i don have consciousness/1st person feeling any more, i am no different than stones/plants,then i might not exist no more ...
[13:40] herman Bergson: You would be in coma then Kiki
[13:41] Mick Nerido: I sometimes don't recognize myself in a reflection if I am surprised by it, like in a window
[13:41] Kiki Walpanheim: i think therefore i
[13:41] Kiki Walpanheim: nods....but perhaps the consciousness is only small part of brain. the determinal part is the same as primates...its those primitives that define us...i dunno]
[13:43] herman Bergson: Well....I discussed in previous lectures our basic emotions and the fact that the idea that we are rational and by ratio controlled beings is a bit of a mistake
[13:43] Kiki Walpanheim: oh
[13:43] herman Bergson: to some extend we control our actions by our ratio...
[13:43] Cocoa Moonkill: mmm... may be we have some "symbols" that our brain uses to designate us as "I"
[13:43] herman Bergson: but that is just a part of our consciousness
[13:44] herman Bergson: Consciousness consists of inner, qualitative, subjective states and processes of sentience or awareness.
[13:44] Mick Nerido: Is there an evolutionary advantage to the "I" consciousness?
[13:44] herman Bergson: Consciousness, so defined, begins when we wake in the morning from a dreamlesssleep - and continues until we fall asleep again, die, go into a coma or otherwise become "unconscious."
[13:44] herman Bergson: .
[13:45] Kiki Walpanheim: nods
[13:45] herman Bergson: .
[13:45] herman Bergson: Well Mick.....I would say....look around and how we survive and live a social life...
[13:46] herman Bergson: An advantage????
[13:46] herman Bergson: SOme might even say that it is a danger for our planet and our survival
[13:47] herman Bergson: It is just how the brain works....
[13:47] Mick Nerido: We are a pack animal...
[13:47] Kyra Neutron: shakes her head..longs for the parfumed punk bee..that never works..what a lively dreamy planet...
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: to help to rationalize and guide your primitive to be more adaptive?
[13:47] herman Bergson: One advantage is for instance that we can cure the sick......animals just get ill and die
[13:48] Qwark Allen: we can cure them to
[13:48] herman Bergson: yes Qwark, they just cant cure themselves like a human being can
[13:49] Kyra Neutron: weird
[13:49] Kyra Neutron: that people started to cure themselves
[13:49] Qwark Allen: we wouldn`t be here, having this class, if we weren't conscious
[13:49] Kyra Neutron: by watching the nature healing itself..
[13:49] herman Bergson: Our brain makes us probably the most adaptive organisms on this planet
[13:49] Kiki Walpanheim: but the consciousness, rational brain part seems to be th only art nder our contol
[13:49] Qwark Allen: that is why we are so sucessfull here
[13:49] Kiki Walpanheim: other parts of body won listen to us
[13:50] Qwark Allen: probably not even that one
[13:50] Nitro Fireguard: why should we make a difference between the counsciousness of the world and the "I" consciousness?
[13:50] herman Bergson: yes Kiki...the idea that we have absolute control over ourselves seems to me to be a mistake....
[13:50] Mick Nerido: The placebo effect...
[13:50] Kiki Walpanheim: like ur stomach, intesine wont listen to u how thy work
[13:51] Nitro Fireguard: I personally include myself in the whole Universe *lol*
[13:51] Qwark Allen: +/-
[13:51] herman Bergson: I don't see a difference between the two Nitro
[13:51] herman Bergson: .
[13:51] Nitro Fireguard: yes I agree with that :)
[13:52] herman Bergson: lecture I'll try to show you that the Cartesian dualism has been a historic mistake...
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: but consciousness is also biological, so there is o free wil right ok another big question i philo;p
[13:52] Kiki Walpanheim: TY professor
[13:52] Qwark Allen: there is no free will
[13:53] herman Bergson: We'll get to that Qwark.....
[13:53] Qwark Allen: we have been allready there a litle herman
[13:53] herman Bergson: We have a long road ahead of us... :-)
[13:53] Qwark Allen: that is nice
[13:53] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ LOL ♥
[13:53] Qwark Allen: was really interesting as usual herman
[13:53] Qwark Allen: missed classes for sure
[13:53] herman Bergson: Thank you Qwark....
[13:54] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): I sorry..
[13:54] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): yes i am I'm Sorry! missing tuesdays
[[13:54] Mick Nerido: Thanks great class!
[13:54] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your creative participation....
[13:54] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ty herman and class!! see u soon:-) i must go
[13:54] herman Bergson: class dismissed :-)
[13:54] Qwark Allen: HooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooo !!!!!!
[13:54] Ciska Riverstone: Thank you Herman :-)
[13:54] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:54] Cocoa Moonkill: thank you for the lecture
[13:54] Ciska Riverstone: bye everyone :)
[13:54] Kiki Walpanheim: see you later
[13:54] Kiki Walpanheim: ty
[13:54] herman Bergson: Bye Ciska
[13:55] Siggi Ludwig (ludwig.john): thank you and bye till next time
[13:55] Nitro Fireguard: Thank you so much
[13:55] Nitro Fireguard: see you next time
[13:55] herman Bergson: My pleasure Nitro
[13:55] Nitro Fireguard smiles
[13:55] herman Bergson: You're always welcome
[13:55] Nitro Fireguard: Bye :)
[13:55] Kyra Neutron: by goldie..
[13:56] Cocoa Moonkill: goodbye
[13:57] Kyra Neutron: it could be taken..and no copy...idk if you need this one back
[13:57] herman Bergson: no no.... :-)
[13:57] herman Bergson: it is my own work
[13:58] Kyra Neutron: oks :)
[13:58] Kyra Neutron: so i has a naked picture of hermans avi in invo
[13:58] Kyra Neutron: lovely
[13:58] Kyra Neutron: good night gentlemen
[13:58] herman Bergson smiles
[13:58] Mick Nerido: Thanks professor
[13:59] herman Bergson: yw Mick :-)
[14:01] herman Bergson: Hi Jerome
[14:02] Jerome Ronzales: Hi herman!
[14:02] herman Bergson: class is over...unfortunately
[14:03] Jerome Ronzales: yep, i thought so
[14:03] Jerome Ronzales: the fact that i keep trying splitting my self in several others is kind of difficult…
[14:04] Jerome Ronzales: althought its kinda entertaining..
[14:04] Jerome Ronzales: know what i mean?
[14:06] herman Bergson: yes I know....too many options :-)

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